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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - S Line Avant 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, styling, subtlety, value compared to S4, unique six-speed manual ratios, suspension tweaks, ride quality, bigger wheels/tyres, grip, safety, stability, extra equipment, specific seat comfort, practicality, refinement, interior presentation, fit and finish
Room for improvement
Rear seat room, bottom-end torque delivery, long-throw and heavy gearshift

Audi logo12 Nov 2004

By TIM BRITTEN

FAST road cars are not exactly new to Audi, even if it hasn’t achieved the same levels of recognition enjoyed by souped-up BMWs and Benzes.

But those with a little knowledge of the third German car-maker with eyes for an ever-increasing share of the prestige and luxury markets, know that there have been one or two landmark Audis.

In fact, it goes way back to the storming Audi Rallye quattro first seen in 1981 – the car that changed the shape of international rallying.

More recently there have been a number of more accessible, more practical Audis on steroids: the S2s, S4s and S8s of the 1990s and the stunning RS4 Avant of the early 2000s.

Applying the RS badge was akin to adding afterburners. The RS4, via twin turbochargers attached to its 2.7-litre V6, produced an astonishing 280kW with no less than 440Nm of torque. To the few people who got to own one, this was a subtle but very serious compact station wagon.

These days, we have the sensational RS6 which sounds a final but strident note for the current A6 series and, just recently, the S4 that somehow shoehorns Audi’s 4.2-litre V8 into the A4 engine bay – which had formerly seen nothing larger than a 3.0-litre V6 and, in the previous S4, a 2.7-litre twin-turbo V6.

These activities have established something of an awareness of Audi’s more aggressive side. But until now buyers wanting something that looked decidedly performance focussed but didn’t want to go the whole way – or spend really significant money – tended to look at the aftermarket for bodykits, or maybe even a performance enhancing engine chip.

Well, that’s not necessary any more. Audi has now given us the S Line which, for a lot less money than a full-blown S or RS, provides much of the sizzle with a smaller portion of the steak.

The first S Line to be launched here, the S40 series, which comes in either sedan or Avant form, combines the aggressive looks of an RS with a mildly worked-over powerplant - all factory-sourced.

Considering the current S4 opens at around $130,000, the A4 S Line sedan is almost a bargain at less than $70,000 – as is the Avant, which is tagged at slightly more than $73,000.

The looks are very similar to the S4 and include a tiny rear spoiler as well as new, more aggressive bumpers front and rear. The five-spoke, 17-inch wheels are bigger too, but they’re a little less meaty than the 18-inch six-spokers used on the S4.

The S Line A4 uses the familiar 1.8-litre intercooled turbo four-cylinder seen elsewhere in the A4 range, where it also comes with standard all-wheel drive.

It is minimally tweaked, producing 140kW where the standard version produces 120, and 240Nm of torque rather than 225.

The standard transmission is a little special it’s the manual six-speed like that found in the S4. And the suspension has been given a workover, lowering ride height and tightening up overall responses in a way that complements the bigger 235/45 17-inch tyres.

The interior makeover brings manually-adjusted leather and suede-trimmed sports seats, leather-bound steering wheel and a rousing 10-speaker "Chorus" sound system complete with CD changer.

The seats do a really good job of locating driver and front passenger, while also incorporating adjustable-length cushions, as well as tilt and height adjustment.

The interior is otherwise pretty standard A4 beautifully detailed with plenty of touches of real aluminium, comfortably spacious for front-seat passengers but potentially a little tight in the back despite the scalloped backrests.

The instrument display features two large, easily-deciphered dials and the cruise control is operated via a steering column wand rather than wheel-mounted buttons.

A bonus with the S Line – and with the S4 – is that buyers can choose between four-door sedan and Avant wagon.

The Avant test car showed that sporty looks and on-road verve can be combined with practicality. The load area offers a split-fold rear seat as well as a cargo blind and will, according to Audi, carry up to 1184 litres with the seats folded.

This is not a big wagon, but it’s certainly more fun to drive than most of the SUVs that are eating away at wagon sales.

The six-speed transmission is no irrelevance here because the 1.5 tonne-plus Avant is initially hampered by the 1.8-litre turbo. It’s only eager to get off the line if the driver plans ahead.

Normally, if caught unawares, the S Line drops into an initial accelerative hole but then comes on with a surge once the turbo spools up, at around 2000rpm. From there until the 6300rpm redline it’s a smooth, rapid build-up of speed.

The ratio spread of the six-speed gearbox – long of throw, rather heavy and needing a firm, positive hand – helps in some way with the initial lag because it enables compensation via a fairly low-ratio first gear.

Still, the slightly heavier Avant – by 55kg - remains pretty rapid, accelerating to 100km/h in 8.5 seconds - or 0.2 of a second behind the sedan.

The tighter suspension means a quick-responding wagon, much sharper than regular A4s. The steering feels a little heavier, which is a good thing, and the ride is a little harsher, which is a sacrifice that needs to be made for generally improved handling.

The full-time four-wheel drive system – complete with a Torsen centre differential – is less necessary here than in the V8-powered S4, but it’s always a boon on indifferent road surfaces.

The car’s inherent stable handling is supported with the now class standard electronic stability control system, along with brakes that use four-channel ABS along with brake assist for extra boost during emergencies, and electronic brake-force distribution which decides where the braking should be applied before the ABS decides to step in.

No, the A4 S Line Avant is not an S4, but it virtually looks like one and is a lot less expensive, even if it is only slightly quicker than a regular A4.

It’s not possible to directly compare the S Line Avant with a regular A4 Avant because in the latter case Audi only offers a V6 engine but, looking at the pricing of the sedan versions, where around $8000 more is asked for the S Line over a standard 1.8T, it’s unlikely that a visit to the local speed shop would yield financially comparable results.

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